Claire Meadows, 92, is lying in bed on a Sunday morning, looking forward to the 102nd birthday party of her friend Martin in his retirement home. As she reminiscences about her life, her failed ambition to become a concert pianist, her missed opportunity to have a child, her friends and lovers, mostly dead, she is troubled by the part she played, consciously and deliberately, in the death of her husband. Did she kill him or was it an accident? Or a suicide willingly abetted by her? And what about her feelings of fear and relief when the body was taken away?
Widowed, her outlook is changed by a casual sexual encounter and in the years that follow she seems to be catching up on the experience she missed as she was married at twenty-two. Most of her brief liaisons are unsatisfactory until, at a concert, she sits next to a man with an intriguing face. Many years after his death, the memory of that relationship still excites her.
When she met her husband, who was more than twenty years her senior, she was lost, or that is what she believed, and for the next thirty years he made all the decisions on her behalf. She had to adjust to his lifestyle and relinquish her musical ambitions.
Yet, looking back, she insists that she was happy in her marriage, only to qualify the statements almost immediately. Her memories, are unreliable and sometimes contradictory. She is aware that she has difficulty in distinguishing memory and imagination. However, despite her advanced age, her desire for love and sexual intimacy appear undiminished. She dreams of being sexually desired, while aware that, at ninety-two, the dream is bound to remain just that.
Zach, her adopted son, and Gabriel, his partner, both in their early sixties, arrive earlier than planned. There is no party. Martin died that morning. Despite their grief, Claire and the men plan a trip to the Uffizi in Florence. This is a story of a life-enhancing journey from a state of being lost to self-knowledge and contentment.
‘In the opening pages of Vesna Main’s short story collection we meet two women – both objects of the male gaze but under very different circumstances. The first story references EastEnders, the second the Salon des Refuses, challenging the reader’s moral perception and demonstrating the nuances of consent. Themes like these emerge throughout the otherwise disconnected 20 stories in the Croatian author’s collection. They are introduced with a quote by Alberto Manguel from his novel All Men Are Liars: “It is strange that no reader ever understood that my only subject is love.” The desire to be loved runs throughout Temptation, but there are no happily-everafters here.’ —Antonia Charlesworth, Big Issue in the North
‘Lush Library Recommends: Anna James’ Books for 2018 Another collection of short stories, this one from Croatian writer Main, these look at ideas of loneliness, passion and obsession and the sometimes gray areas between them. In these experimental stories of different lengths and styles, her characters include a prostitute turned murderer, a self-destructive book collection and a perfectionist dinner party hostess.’ —Anna James
‘Vesna Main’s novel is inventive, witty, “experimental” in style and structure, but none the less involving and powerful for that. It is written in purely dialogue form and makes a point of leaving its readers with their own share of imaginative work to do. The multiple narratives are ingeniously interwoven and the dialogue handled with a deftness of touch that keeps readers perpetually on their toes. Although she has learned some handy lessons from Nathalie Sarraute and other, mainly French practitioners of the “new novel” Vesna Main here shows herself a highly distinctive, adventurous, and formally accomplished writer whose work should find many admirers.’ —Chris Norris
‘Main’s stories are vivid, strange, thrillingly brief and filled with sex, violence and the banal horror of daily life. They are unusual tales filled with often unlikeable characters. Temptation is for you if you like witty, sharp dialogue, experimental modernist fiction and stories which speak to the darkest corner of ourselves.’ —Megan Kenny, Disclaimer Magazine
‘It is thought-provoking and insightful, and, while it could prove uncomfortable reading for anyone who is part of a middle-aged married couple, I think it is an important book and one that I can imagine prize judges responding to very positively as the year unfolds.’ —Scott Pack
‘The format might lead one to expect an ironic, fabular illustration of how unsophisticated readers get fiction wrong. But Main is more sophisticated than that. There are layers of fiction in Good Day?, each of them unstable.’ —Times Literary Supplement